Back Surgery Can Be Good for Your Sex Life

Back Surgery Can Be Good for Your Sex Life

by Staff

Back surgery just got a nod from the bedroom.  According to a study in Spine, surgery is more effective in reducing pain that interferes with sexual activity compared to non-surgical treatment.

“Sex life is a relevant consideration for the majority of patients with degenerative spondylolisthesis and spinal stenosis,” according to Dr. Shane Burch of University of California-San Francisco.

“Operative treatment leads to improved sex life-related pain,” in addition to reducing pain and disability from degenerative spinal conditions wrote the authors of the study.

The researchers analyzed data from the Spine Outcomes Research Trial (SPORT) - a huge clinical trials of surgery for spinal disorders.  Patients meeting strict criteria for spinal stenosis or degenerative spondylolisthesis were randomly assigned to surgery or nonsurgical treatment.

Patients with spinal stenosis or degenerative spondylolisthesis have narrowing of or pressure on the spinal canal, causing back pain, leg pain, and other symptoms.  In the SPORT study, patients who did not improve with initial nonsurgical treatment were offered the opportunity to “cross over” to surgical treatment.

In response to questionnaires, about 30 percent of patients indicated that sexual function was not relevant to them.  These patients were older (average 70 versus 63 years), more likely to be female and unmarried, and more likely to have coexisting joint problems.

Of 825 patients who said that sexual function was relevant, 531 underwent some kind of surgery (spinal decompression or spinal fusion) 294 received nonsurgical treatment. Before treatment, 55 percent of patients said they had at least some pain affecting their sex life.

Three months after back surgery, less than 20 percent of patients still had sex life-related pain. In contrast, about 40 percent of patients treated without surgery still had pain with sexual activity. The improvement persisted through four years’ follow-up, and was significant for patients undergoing spinal decompression versus fusion.

Chronic back pain has known negative consequences for sexual function, contributing to decreased quality of life.  Previous research has suggested that sexual function is improved after surgery for back pain. The new study is the first to include a large number of patients undergoing back surgery, and the first to include a comparison group of patients treated without surgery.

“The impetus behind our study was to initiate the process of understanding how back surgery affects patients’ lives,” says Dr. Burch. “An important aspect for many patients includes sex life. We have very limited data to discuss this topic, and we need to do a better job for our patients to inform them of what to expect after surgery.”

Dr. Burch and colleagues suggest that surgeons and other professionals caring for patients with back pain should be aware of and discuss the impact on sexual functioning. They conclude: “Sex-life function is relevant to patients with spinal pathology and should be addressed.”

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Authored by: Staff

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Tim Mason

Jean, my fusion results sound much like yours. I got stabilization from mine but I also got nerves encased in scar tissue (very painful) at 2 years out.
The more surgery you have the harder it is to tell where your pain is coming from. I have had two other PM docs prior to the one I have now.
Knowing and accepting the fact that a person cannot walk in and demand an opioid by name is paramount to getting the help you need. Even though a patient knows what works for them the doctor must make the call and the patient must call thru all the different medications (knowing that they will not help) to get to the point where they need to be. Costly and frustrating but that is how it must be done now.

Jean Price

Tim….not sure I’m understanding your reply, but it wasn’t that she broached the subject of sex, it was how she stated the question that had me laughing. (On the lighter side,…when I told my brother about her question, he laughingly said he hoped she didn’t phrase it that way to sailors, since he problably would have replied, “Now, or later?”!!). But seriously, yes, informed consent means covering all aspects of risks. And if you have been questioned in the past about sex, you might be surprised to know that’s a rarity in my experience and opinion, although it is part of good health care. As a person with pain and a nurse “in a former life”, I agree that any therapy or medical intervention isn’t a one size fits all…and also that the percentage of probability of a risk doesn’t matter as much as just being aware it COULD possibly happen to you. Even a low epidural/spinal injection carries risks similar to back surgery, regarding those types of negative effects.

I hope your fusion changed your life at least some for the better…I wasn’t clear on that. Mine helped a little yet unfortunately other places became problems…and the doctor had said he couldn’t get me out of pain anyway because the area was in such a mess after two previous failed surgeries with major complications. It mostly just stabilized my low back. Hoping for the best for you, or at least your personal best as much as possible.

Tim Mason

They always as women and men if they plan on having any or anymore prior to surgery It is not a “one shoe fits all” it is that any surgical intervention can affect all.
If a patient has not been asked this question they cannot make a truly “Informed consent”
I had an ALIF 360 two years ago this xmas and it changed my life.
As my neurosurgeon put it in the vernacular: “Men ache in their sack, and women ache in their crack”

Tim Mason
Most people are unaware of the pudendal nerve and the horrible pain that can be associated with the entrapment of this nerve.
Worth a look.

Jean Price

I suppose surgical intervention CAN actually “make” back pain less…enough to improve or even revive someone’s sex life. Yet it can also damage nerves that make sex enjoyable…or even possible! So both sides, people…once again, both sides of the issue would be helpful information to report here!! ALL operative permits for lower back surgery have LOSS of sexual, bowel, and bladder function listed as a possible risk! (So not establishing this clearly could be misleading!) I’m sure some people are helped, even by just regaining muscle strength and flexibility in their range of motion after surgery…with post-op exercise routines and IF all goes well. It would be interesting to see how many people with pain have even been asked by their doctor about how their sex life has been impacted…I’m guessing only a very few! The only time In 25+ years I personally was ever asked about sex was by a psychologist when I had to submit to a pre-op psychological profiling exam prior to a two level, 360 degree fusion…as a requirement of Medicare! Yet even then, her question wasn’t in reference to difficulty from back pain but rather a general “How do you feel about sex?” (And being a child of the 60’s, I laughed!!) Sex…just like fees for visits and procedure costs…are two seemingly taboo subjects for many healthcare providers! They don’t bring it up and they don’t really want patients to bring it up either! Which is sad, since those two areas of life can definitely add to or detract from our quality of life, along with function. May some will read about the study and start asking…but I’m not banking in that.


After seven spine surgeries, and feeling like the most intelligent person in a room full of doctors and nurses on many occasions, my life is ruined and I am more crippled than imaginable. My experience was a nightmare. Back surgery seems to seldom have a good outcome whether fusion is an issue or not. In one waiting room after another, during social encounters, and in online chat rooms, most of the people I have encountered over the past 15 years have found themselves in worse pain after back surgery than before their medical misadventure. Choose wisely as you cannot go back.

Kathy C

This “News Release” makes it sound as if a Physician or Surgeon would consider any of this a factor. In 20 years of Back Surgeries, and other issues involving “Back Pain” little of any kind of quality of life was ever discussed. The fact is that it won’t be unless you have the “Right Insurance” and are in the right demographic. Apparently if you are female, and have been forced to go on Medicare, the only Time a Surgeon will do Surgery is if there is significant danger of Paralysis. Many people do not have the Insurance or financial ability to find a surgeon that cares about a “sex life.” This question does not come up, it is considered trivial. Sex Life! I would be happy doing a full sink of dishes without experiencing enough pain to stop. My Surgeon told me he would only consider surgery if there was a significant problem with the spinal canal, like more narrowing. He would not consider any other surgical intervention, along the spine with compressed nerves, bone impeding the nerve roots, or any of the other problems. He clearly had no concern about my Sex life, or even my ability to get out of the house. I suppose that is why many of the women in my demographic turn to Alcohol, Drugs, and Suicide. Once again i was told there was no hope, not even for a 20% reduction in pain. He also picked the cleanest angles for the MRIs he referred to, or perhaps he had not bothered to look at them all. I had no real expectation of anything improving. This is how they Ration Healthcare. I am just one more disposable person in the U.S. I can no longer work. When I was working, I had to quit my job, because I was in too much pain. It took another 2 Years to finally get a surgical fix, one that is now giving out. I was told that the pain was “Stress” when i did have a job. Multiple appointments, and years later, I could barely even talk when they did the surgery, and my left arm was essentially dead. Silly me, I can’t help bu think, what if they had only diagnosed this before it became so debilitating. Due to their fear of diagnosing, or economic considerations, the postponing and misdiagnosis led to permanent damage. I spent nearly every penny I had trying to find relief , Chiropractors who I believe made it worse, were happy to take my money, Now the surgeons are recommending Chiropractors. They have to offer something besides a death sentence. Physicians are even bragging in the Newspaper about turning away people with pain. They feel like they are doing them a favor. One of this Physicians patients had “back pain” that turned out to be Kidney Cancer. She went to Chiropractor and spent a lot of her meager Social Security check paying for “Treatments.” It took her Physician nearly 3 years to suspect… Read more »

Judy J

So many chronic pain patients report worse pain after surgery, failed surgeries, why in the heck would anyone under-go surgery just to improve their sex life???

Ask & Receive

Necessary ” back”..spine surgery nearly ruint my sexlife and nearly my marrige at the age of 37 years old. If i were not for specialized medicines, it would have. I understand the article is stating certain surgeries can improve sex life, but ALL of my friends who have had any type of upper or lower back surgery have had their sex life along with many other aspects of “normal” life affected. Of course, once again being law abiding, moral thinking people we have to turn to the same physicians that advised us to have surgery or for those who have contracted a painful disabling disease when told by the respective physician “I can’t help you any further or more with your pain” turn to medicine again for an answer. Pain is as real as the air we breathe. Don’t let us forget other folks in chronic pain due to an injury caused by someone else, or even a devastating disease contracted through no fault of one’s on that can only be helped largely by opioid medication. Most of the time the good people ultimately find themselves being medicated to some degreee and becoming at the least, dependent on opioids. This is not what we wish to do, it is what we have to do to continue working in some cases, and to continue to just function at our day to day activities such as buying your food, bathing, or just getting a restful nights sleep. This all being said, I can not understand how the agency making these reccomendations to the states’ medical boards determined the best thing to do is advise all physcians and even pain management specialist physicians that they MUST reduce their non-terminal cancer patients “down” from medicines they maybe have been taking for DECADES back to a certain amount of opioids per day equated to a morphine based conversion chart regardless of what type medicine you have been, and the key word is “been” taking for possibly decades.Not everyone in chronic pain (100 million Americans) not all necessarily taking a narcotic medicine I admit, can even function on say, 100 milligrams of a morphine based medicine per day. I realize those not having to contend with crippling pain daily say, that is a lot of medicine. That is why these type patients, patients, I said, are MONITORED by trained, educated, and monitored themselves…..physicians! This is why we have Pain Management Specialists and we the people HAVE to seek their professional help yet their authority to dispense medications to their monitored, contract adiding, physically evaluated patients has been taken away..It is a “one shoe fits all” type mentality that has been adopted. Is this not still a country that we are innocent until proven guilty of a cime? Not this is not a courtroom and it is not a crime to pursue happiness or self sustainment.